Pingree Detroit celebrates shipping off 100th pair of handmade shoes

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Nate is a Detroiter through and through.  

An alum of Martin Luther King High School, he has been across the globe, including Afghanistan and South Korea as he served our nation in the Air Force. When he got back to his hometown, the economy had tanked and there wasn't work for anyone, much less veterans.

"Everybody was unemployed at that time," said Nate Crawford. "It hurt but I was understanding why it would hurt military as well because everyone was unemployed. (There were not) any programs to transition a lot of people from military to civilian life at that time."

He saw an ad on social media for Pingree Detroit, named after Hazen Pingree, a four-time mayor of the city and former governor of Michigan. The company wanted to employ veterans. Eight people work there and many of them veterans, others are Detroiters with a very special talent.  

"This pair of shoes takes two and a half days to hand-make," said Jarret Schlaff. "You know the name of the veteran who made your shoes. You know that this pair is side-wall stitched which means it can be re-soled for the life of the shoe.

"The leather is all up cycled from the Detroit auto industry so you're supporting American manufacturing, Detroit manufacturing, veteran made, Detroit made and you know that the majority of the cost is all going to the people who make it."

Using heavily discounted unused leather from auto companies, new shoes are made. After starting up in 2015, the 100th pair was just shipped off -- a milestone as the company continues to grow.  

"The community did come together and they bought our wallets, our totes, they donated equipment like Lear donated our first sewing machines," Schlaff said. "And we found the (work) space at New Life Prosthetics that we were able to use that otherwise we would not be able to afford. Because of the community around us, we have now employed veterans who have overcome homelessness, overcome adversity."

Pingree now makes purses, wallets and more coming.  Nate is thankful. It's not just the steady paycheck, it's bigger than that. It's coming home from serving the country back to Detroit and doing something that has deep meaning. 

"You are making stuff in the community, handmade in the community," Nate said. "We are doing as much as we can to cut down on waste, so we are using upcycled leather from the Detroit auto industry. We are embracing the neighborhood by using Pingree Detroit, which is like five blocks up the street, so I could not turn that down."

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